Sunday, March 25, 2007

Time to let the media into the Family Law Courts

Ireland's Family Court reporter Dr Carol Coulter said yesterday that the input of children is rarely considered by judges in family law cases, and when it is it tends to be only that of teenagers and not smaller children, says this story in the Sunday Independent. Last month, Dr Coulter produced a very useful research report (see this entry) showing that more Irish divorces are settled amicably and without recourse to court battles, than had been thought. Dr Coulter (right) is also The Irish Times Legal Affairs Correspondent.

However, the production of research of this kind is the furthest that the court system has gone towards opening up the Family Law courts to public scrutiny. What research cannot convey is the flavour of court proceedings, whether individual cases are dealt with fairly or unfairly, the attitude of judges towards certain parties and so on. Without this information, we are left in ignorance of perhaps 90 percent of what goes on in the courtroom.

For decades, the media have reported proceedings in the Children's Court. They have done so without publishing details that might tend to identify children appearing before the court. But the media reporting of what goes on in the Children's Court has done much to highlight deficits in the entire juvenile justice system.

It is really past time for the Courts Service to introduce a similar facility into the Family Law courts for media reporting with strict anonymity rules . Otherwise, despite Dr Coulter's excellent work, we are left wondering what really goes on behind those closed doors.....

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